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Title:  Maldives Human Rights Practices, 1995   
Author:  U.S. Department of State    
Date:  March 1996    
 
 
 
 
                            MALDIVES 
 
 
The Republic of Maldives comprises 1,190 islands scattered across an 
area 500 miles long by 75 miles wide in the Indian Ocean.  The 
population is about 245,000 persons.  The Maldives has a parliamentary 
form of government with a strong executive.  The President appoints the 
Cabinet, members of the judiciary, and one-sixth of the Parliament.  The 
President derives additional influence from his constitutional role as 
the protector of Islam.  Political parties are officially discouraged, 
and candidates for the unicameral legislature, the Citizens' Majlis, run 
as individuals.  The Majlis selects a single presidential nominee who is 
approved or rejected in a national referendum.  The Majlis must approve 
all legislation and can enact legislation without presidential approval.  
Civil law is subordinate to Islamic law, but civil law is generally 
applied in criminal and civil cases. 
 
The National Security Service (NSS) performs its duties under effective 
civilian control.  The NSS includes the armed forces and police, and its 
members serve in both police and military capacities during their 
careers.  The police division investigates crimes, collects 
intelligence, makes arrests, and enforces house arrest. 
 
Fishing, small-scale agriculture, and tourism provide employment for 
over one-half the work force.  Tourism accounts for over one-quarter of 
government revenues and roughly 40 per cent of foreign exchange 
receipts.  Manufacturing accounts for 6 percent of gross domestic 
product (GDP). 
 
The Government restricts human rights in several areas, but the 
political process has become more open in recent years.  Political 
groupings at odds with the Government have emerged in the Majlis, which 
plays a more active political role.  However, the President's power to 
appoint a significant portion of the Parliament still constrains 
citizens' ability to change their government.  An easing of government 
restrictions and creation of a Press Council has allowed a greater 
diversity of views in the media, but the media engaged in considerable 
self-censorship in the belief that the Government has limited tolerance 
for criticism.  The Government limits freedom of assembly and 
association.  In addition, important restrictions continued on the 
freedom of religion, and women and workers faced continuing restraints 
on the full exercise of their rights.  Some of these restrictions are 
linked to the Government's observance of Shari'a (Islamic law) and other 
Islamic customs. 
 
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS 
 
Section 1   Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom 
from: 
 
   a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing 
 
There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings. 
 
   b.   Disappearance 
 
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances. 
 
   c.   Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or 
Punishment 
 
There were no reports of beatings or other mistreatment of persons in 
police custody.  Convicted criminals may be flogged under judicial 
supervision when this punishment is prescribed by Islamic law.  However, 
there were no reported floggings.  Punishments are usually confined to 
fines, compensatory payment, house arrest, imprisonment, or banishment 
to a remote atoll.  The Government generally permits those who are 
banished to receive visits by family members. 
 
Prison conditions, including food and prisoner housing, are adequate.  
Prisoners are allowed to work in prison and given opportunity for 
regular exercise and recreation.  Spouses are allowed privacy during 
visits with incarcerated partners.  The Government has permitted prison 
visits by foreign diplomats. 
 
   d.   Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile 
 
The Constitution states that no person shall be apprehended, except on a 
verdict specified by Shari'a or civil law.  Police initiate 
investigations based on suspicion of criminal activity or in response to 
written complaints from citizens, police officers, or government 
officials.  They are not required to obtain warrants for arrests.  Based 
on the results of police investigations, the Attorney General refers 
cases to the appropriate court.  The authorities generally keep the 
details of a case confidential until they are confident that the charges 
will be upheld. 
 
Depending on the charges, a suspect may remain free, detained in prison, 
or under house arrest for 15 days during investigations.  The President 
may extend pretrial detention for an additional 30 days, but in most 
cases the suspect is released if not brought to trial within 15 days.  
Those who are released pending trial may not leave a specific atoll.  
The law, however, permits indefinite detention without charge for 
suspects accused of drug abuse, terrorism, or attempted overthrow of the 
Government.  There is no right to legal counsel during police 
interrogation.  Nor is there any provision for bail. 
 
The Government may prohibit access to a telephone and nonfamily visits 
to those under house arrest.  While there have been no reported cases of 
incommunicado detention in recent years, the law does not provide 
safeguards against this abuse. 
 
The Government detained three individuals in April who in October 
remained under house arrest without charge.  One of the individuals had 
previously been arrested, charged, and convicted for his writings in the 
subsequently banned Magazine Sangu.  The Government has offered no 
reasons for their detention, noting only that the case is under 
investigation.  It is widely believed, however, that their detention is 
the result of political differences with the Government rather than due 
to any threat that the men--all of whom are elderly and well known 
figures--pose to national security. 
 
There were no reports of external exile.  However, the Government 
sometimes banishes citizens to remote atolls. 
 
   e.   Denial of Fair Public Trial 
 
The Constitution does not provide for an independent judiciary.  The 
judiciary is subject to executive influence.  In addition to his 
authority to review High Court decisions, the President influences the 
judiciary through his power to appoint and dismiss judges, all of whom 
serve at this pleasure and are not subject to confirmation by the 
Majlis.  The President has nevertheless removed only two judges since 
1987.  Both dismissals followed the recommendation of the Justice 
Ministry which found the judges' professional qualifications to be below 
standard.  The President may also grant pardons and amnesties. 
 
There are four summary courts, falling under the Ministry of Justice, on 
the capital island, Male'.  These summary courts adjudicate specialized 
cases, such as debt, theft, or property claims.  There is also a High 
Court on Male', which is independent of the Justice Ministry and which 
handles a wide range of cases, including politically sensitive ones, and 
acts as a court of appeal.  Under a 1995 presidential decree, High Court 
rulings can be reviewed by a 5-member advisory council appointed by the 
President.  The President also has authority to affirm judgments of the 
High Court, order a second hearing, or overturn the court's decision.  
In addition to the Male' courts, there are 204 general courts on the 
islands. 
 
There are no jury trials.  Most trials are public and are conducted by 
judges and magistrates trained in Islamic, civil, and criminal law.  
Cases on outer islands are usually adjudicated by magistrates, but when 
more complex legal questions are involved, the Justice Ministry will 
send more experienced judges to handle the case. 
 
During a trial, the accused may defend himself, call witnesses, and be 
assisted by a lawyer.  Courts do not provide lawyers to indigent 
defendants.  Judges question the concerned parties and attempt to 
establish the facts of a case. 
 
Civil law is subordinate to Islamic law, or Shari'a.  Shari'a is applied 
in situations not covered by civil law as well as in certain acts such 
as divorce and adultery.  Courts adjudicating matrimonial and criminal 
cases generally do not allow legal counsel in court because, according 
to a local interpretation of Shari'a, all answers and submissions should 
come directly from the parties involved.  However, the High Court allows 
legal counsel in all cases, including those in which the right to 
counsel was denied in the lower court.  Under Islamic practice, the 
testimony of two women is required to equal that of one man in matters 
involving finance and inheritance.  In other cases the testimony of men 
and women are equal. 
 
There are some political prisoners, most of whom were associated with 
Ilyas Ibrahim, the President's chief rival for the 1993 presidential 
nomination.  Eight Ilyas supporters were charged with involvement in the 
antistate activities for which Ibrahim was convicted in absentia in 
1993.  They were brought to trial in early 1994, were convicted, and 
sentenced to 7 years' banishment.  The sentence was reduced to 1 year on 
appeal and most had reportedly completed their sentences and been 
released by year's end. 
 
   f.   Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or 
Correspondence 
 
The Constitution prohibits security officials from opening or reading 
letters, telegrams, and wireless messages or monitoring telephone 
conversations, "except in accordance with the specific provisions of the 
law."  The NSS may open the mail of private citizens and monitor 
telephone conversations if authorized in the course of a criminal 
investigation. 
 
Although the Constitution requires the authorities to respect private 
premises and dwellings, there is no legal requirement for search or 
arrest warrants.  The Attorney General or a commanding officer of the 
police must approve the search of private residences. 
 
Section 2   Respect for Civil Liberties, Including: 
 
   a.   Freedom of Speech and Press 
 
Citizens enjoyed greater freedom of speech and expression in 1995.  
However, Law 4J/68 of 1968 still prohibits public statements that are 
contrary to Islam, threaten the public order, or are libelous.  In 
September 1994, a court sentenced one person to 6 months imprisonment 
for making false statements about the Government.  The Penal Code 
prohibits inciting the people against the Government.  However, a 1990 
amendment to the Penal Code decriminalized "any true account of any act 
of commission or omission past or present by the Government in a 
lawfully registered newspaper or magazine, so as to reveal 
dissatisfaction or to effect its reform." 
 
The Press Council established by the Government in 1994 is composed of 
government and private media representatives, lawyers, and government 
officials.  It continues to oversee the press and protect the rights of 
journalists.  The Council has deferred efforts to draft a code of ethics 
for journalistic activity, leaving that effort to the journalists 
themselves.  The Government has not amended regulations that make 
publishers responsible for the content of the material they publish, 
despite reports in 1994 that the regulations were under review and a 
change was likely.   
 
During the year there were no reports of government censorship of either 
the print or electronic media, nor were there closures of any 
publications or reports of arrests or intimidation of journalists.  
Journalists, however, are widely believed to engage in self-censorship, 
particularly on political topics, for fear that the Government will 
retaliate against them. 
 
Television news and public affairs programming routinely discussed 
topics of current concern and freely criticized government performance.  
Regular press conferences are conducted by government ministers. 
 
The Government owns and operates the only television and radio station.  
It does not interfere with foreign broadcasts or the sale of satellite 
receivers.  Reports drawn from foreign newscasts are aired on the 
government television station.  Cable News Network is shown, uncensored, 
daily on local television. 
 
Seventy-six newspapers and periodicals, 13 of which are government-
published, are registered with the Government.  Aafathis, a morning 
daily, is published by the brother of the President's principal 
political rival, Ilyas Ibrahim, and is often critical of government 
policy.  An evening daily, Haveer, is published by one of the 
President's supporters. 
 
There are no legal prohibitions on the import of foreign publications 
except those containing pornography or material otherwise deemed 
objectionable to Islamic values.  No seizures of foreign publications 
were reported this year.  There are no reported restrictions on academic 
freedom, nor any governmental censorship or control over classroom 
materials.  Some teachers are reportedly vocal in their criticism of the 
Government. 
 
   b.   Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association 
 
The Constitution provides for the right to assembly, as long as the law 
or the Islamic code of behavior are upheld.  The Home Ministry permits 
public political meetings during electoral campaigns but limits them to 
small gatherings on private premises.  The Government registers clubs 
and other private associations if they do not contravene Islamic or 
civil law.  While not forbidden by law, political parties are officially 
discouraged by the President on the grounds that they are inappropriate 
to the homogeneous nature of society.  However, there is an active and 
outspoken opposition group within the Majlis that has stimulated closer 
parliamentary examination of government policy. 
 
   c.   Freedom of Religion 
 
Freedom of religion is significantly restricted.  The Constitution 
designates Islam as the official religion and requires all citizens to 
be Muslims.  The practice of any religion other than Islam is prohibited 
by law.  However, foreign residents are allowed to practice their 
religion if they do so privately. 
 
There are no places of worship for adherents of other religions.  The 
Government prohibits the importation of icons and religious statues.  It 
also prohibits non-Muslim clergy and missionaries from proselytizing and 
conducting public worship services.  Conversion of a Muslim to another 
faith is a violation of Shari'a and may result in a loss of the 
convert's citizenship, although law enforcement authorities say this 
provision has never been applied. 
 
   d.   Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, 
Emigration, and Repatriation 
 
Citizens are free to travel at home and abroad, emigrate, and return.  
Because of overcrowding, the Government discourages migration into the 
capital island of Male' or its surrounding atoll.  There were no reports 
of forced expulsion of those having a valid claim to refugee status.    
 
Section 3   Respect for Political Rights:  The Right of Citizens to 
Change Their Government 
 
Citizens' ability to change their government is constrained, as a strong 
executive exerts significant influence over both the legislature and the 
judiciary.  The Majlis chooses a single presidential nominee who must be 
a Sunni Muslim male.  The candidate is not permitted to campaign for the 
nomination and is confirmed or rejected by secret ballot in a nationwide 
referendum.  In 1993 President Gayoom was reelected to a fourth 5-year 
term. 
 
The elected members of the Majlis serve 5-year terms.  All citizens over 
21 years of age may vote.  Of the body's 48 members, 40 are elected--2 
from each of the 19 inhabited atolls and 2 from Male'--and the President 
appoints 8 members.  Individuals or groups are free to approach members 
of the Majlis with grievances or opinions on proposed legislation, and 
any member may introduce legislation. 
 
The office of the President is the most powerful political institution.  
The Constitution gives Islamic law preeminence over civil law and 
designates the President as the protector of Islam.  The President's 
authority to appoint one-sixth of the Majlis members, which is one-third 
of the total needed for nominating the President, provides the President 
with a power base and strong political leverage. 
 
Relations between the Government and Majlis have been constructive.  The 
Government may introduce legislation, but may not enact a bill into law 
without the Majlis' approval.  However, the Majlis may enact legislation 
into law without presidential assent if the President fails to act on 
the proposal within 30 days or if a bill is repassed with a two-thirds 
majority.  In recent years, the Majlis has become increasingly 
independent, rejecting 8 government bills since 1990 and sending 28 
bills to committee for review.   
 
In 1993 the Majlis introduced a question time in which members may 
question government ministers about public policy.  Debate on the floor 
has since become increasingly sharp and more open. The last Majlis 
election was held in December 1994.  According to South Asian 
Association for Regional Cooperation observers, the elections were 
generally free and fair.  Irregularities were observed and repolling 
required in one of 29 constituencies.  Over 200 candidates campaigned 
freely for 40 seats. 
 
Women are not eligible to become president but may hold other government 
posts.  For reasons of tradition and culture, few women seek or are 
selected for public office.  In 1994 two women served in the Majlis and 
one in the Cabinet. 
 
Section 4   Governmental Attitude Regarding International and 
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights 
 
There are no active local human rights groups.  The Government has been 
responsive to at least one foreign government's interest in examining 
human rights issues.  The Government also facilitated the visit of a 
team of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation election 
observers in 1994. 
 
Section 5   Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, 
Language or Social Status 
 
The Constitution declares all Maldivians equal before the law.  Women, 
however, have traditionally been disadvantaged in Maldivian society, 
particularly in terms of education and the application of Islamic law to 
matters such as divorce, inheritance and testimony in legal proceedings. 
 
   Women 
 
There are no firm data on the extent of violence against women because 
of the value attached to privacy in this conservative society.  Police 
officials report that they receive few complaints of assaults against 
women.  Maldivian women's rights advocates agree that wife beating and 
other forms of violence are not widespread.  Rape and other violent 
crimes against women are rare. 
 
Women traditionally have played a subordinate role in society, although 
they now participate in public life in growing numbers and gradually at 
higher levels.  Well-educated women maintain that cultural norms, not 
the law, inhibit women's education and career choices.  In many 
instances, education for girls is curtailed after the seventh grade, 
largely because parents do not allow girls to leave their home island 
for one having a secondary school.  Due largely to orthodox Islamic 
training, there is a strong strain of conservative sentiment--especially 
among small businessmen and residents of the outer islands--which 
opposes an active role for women outside the home. 
 
Under Islamic practice, husbands may divorce their wives more easily 
than vice versa, absent any mutual agreement to divorce.  Islamic law 
also governs inheritance, granting male heirs twice the share of female 
heirs.  A woman's testimony is equal to only one-half of that of a man 
in matters involving finance and inheritance (see Section 1.e.).  Women 
who work for wages receive pay equal to that of men in the same 
positions.  About 10 per cent of uniformed NSS personnel are women. 
 
   Children 
 
The Government does not have a program of compulsory education.  The 
Government is committed to protection of children's rights and welfare.  
Government policy provides for equal access to educational and health 
programs for both male and female children.  Laws protecting children's 
rights apply with equal force to children of either sex. 
 
Children's rights are incorporated into law, which specifically protects 
children from both physical and psychological abuse, including at the 
hands of teachers or parents.  The Ministry of Home Affairs has the 
authority to enforce this law, takes its responsibility seriously, and 
has received strong popular support for its efforts.  There is no 
reported pattern of abuse against children. 
 
   People with Disabilities 
 
There is no law that specifically addresses the rights of the physically 
or mentally disabled.  However, the Government has established programs 
and provided services for the disabled.  There is no legislated or 
mandated accessibility for the disabled. 
 
Section 6   Worker Rights 
 
   a.   The Right of Association 
 
While the Government does not expressly prohibit unions, it recognizes 
neither the right to form them nor the right to strike.  There were no 
reports of efforts to either form unions or to strike this year. 
 
The work force consists of approximately 57,000 persons, about 20 per 
cent of whom are employed in fishing.  About 17,000 foreigners work in 
Maldives.  Many are from Sri Lanka and India and work in resort hotels 
so that Maldivian nationals may avoid serving liquor.  Many factory 
workers are also foreign laborers; others are engaged in construction 
projects.  The great majority of workers are employed outside the wage 
sector.  The Government estimates that the manufacturing sector employs 
about 15 per cent of the labor force and tourism another 10 per cent. 
 
In 1995 the U.S. Government suspended Maldives' eligibility for tariff 
preferences under the U.S. Generalized System of Preferences because the 
Government failed to take steps to afford internationally recognized 
worker rights to Maldivian workers. 
 
   b.   The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively 
 
The law neither prohibits nor protects workers' rights to organize and 
bargain collectively.  Wages in the private sector are set by contract 
between employers and employees and are usually based on the rates for 
similar work in the public sector.  There are no laws specifically 
prohibiting antiunion discrimination by employers against union members 
or organizers.  The Government has exerted pressure in the past to 
discourage seamen from joining foreign seamen's unions as a means to 
secure higher wages.  During the year there were no reported complaints 
alleging such discrimination.  In addition, there were no reports of 
government interference with workers' attempts to join unions. 
 
There are no export processing zones. 
 
   c.   Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor 
 
Forced or compulsory labor is not prohibited by law.  However, there 
were no reports that it is practiced. 
 
   d.   Minimum Age for Employment of Children 
 
There is no compulsory education law.  A 1992 law bars children under 14 
years of age from "places of waged works and from work that is not 
suitable for that child's age, health, or physical ability or that might 
obstruct the education or adversely affect the mentality or behavior of 
the child."  An earlier law prohibits government employment of children 
under the age of 16.  There are no reports of children being employed in 
the small industrial sector, although children do work in family 
fishing, agricultural, and commercial activities.  The hours of work of 
young workers are not specifically limited by statute. 
 
   e.   Acceptable Conditions of Work 
 
In 1994 the Government promulgated its first set of regulations for 
employer-employee relations.  The regulations specify the terms that 
must be incorporated into employment contracts and address such issues 
as training, work hours, safety, remuneration, leave, fines, 
termination, etc.  There is no national minimum wage for the private 
sector, although the Government has established wage floors for certain 
kinds of work.  Given the severe shortage of labor, employers must offer 
competitive pay and conditions to attract skilled workers. 
 
There are no statutory provisions for hours of work, but the regulations 
require that a work contact specify the normal work and overtime hours 
on a weekly or monthly basis.  In the public sector, a 6-hour day and a 
6-day workweek have been established through administrative circulars 
from the President's office.  Overtime pay for working more than 6 hours 
a day was instituted in the public sector in 1990.  Employees are 
authorized 20 days of annual leave, 30 days of medical leave, maternity 
leave of 45 days, and special annual leave of 10 days for extraordinary 
circumstances.  There are no laws governing health and safety 
conditions; however, there are regulatory requirements that employers 
provide a safe working environment and ensure the observance of safety 
measures.   
 
(###)


[end of document]

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